Ulysses By James Joyce Summary and Analysis Chapter 12 - The Cyclops


This chapter begins just before 5:00 p.m. and takes place in Barney Kiernan's pub, to which Bloom has come to meet with Martin Cunningham so that the two men can proceed on to Paddy Dignam's residence in Sandymount in order to discuss the deceased man's life insurance policy with the bereaved family. The chapter ends with Bloom, Cunningham, Jack Power, and the Orangeman, Mr. Crofton (in Cunningham's carriage) escaping from the Citizen-cyclops. The Citizen-cyclops of Kiernan's pub is modeled upon the ardent Irish nationalist Michael Cusack, who sought to revive Gaelic sports in Ireland as a reaction against England, and Kiernan's pub becomes, metaphorically, the Homeric cave in which Odysseus and his men were imprisoned by the cannibalistic giant cyclops of Greek myth.

Other parallels with the Odyssey are quite explicit and determine several of this episode's motifs. In Homer's epic, the cyclops, Polyphemus, who devoured some of Odysseus's men, was, of course, one-eyed. He was also an anarchist, as were the other cyclopes in Homer's legendary country. Odysseus escaped the cyclops by getting him drunk on wine; after the monster had fallen into a deep slumber, Odysseus blinded him with a fiery stake. Odysseus and his remaining men then left the cave by latching onto the undersides of the cyclops' sheep. Since Odysseus had told Polyphemus that his name was No-Man, the giant received only ridicule from his cohorts when they asked the blinded hulk who had gored out his eye. They reasoned that because "no man" had done the deed, then the gods must be punishing Polyphemus; for that reason, they left him to an uncertain fate. As he departed from the country of the cyclopes, Odysseus made the mistake of taunting the blind cyclops, who hurled a large rock at the departing voyagers. He missed Odysseus and his men, but Polyphemus asked his father, Poseidon, to curse the crew, and because Poseidon was the god of the seas, Odysseus was forced to wander for many extra years before he finally returned to Ithaca.

Many readers of Joyce's Ulysses, approaching the book unaided, should understand immediately that this chapter is, first of all, filled with many references to long, cylindrical objects, similar to the redhot, stave-like weapon which Odysseus used to blind his captor. For example, the anonymous narrator of this chapter tells of almost being blinded by a street cleaner's "gear"; later, Bloom, while rejecting a drink, accepts a cigar; still later, he almost burns his fingers with it. More important, however, than these visual parallels of the Homeric stake is Joyce's clever technique of literary expansion — that is, his vision for this chapter encompasses other thin, long objects, phallic and otherwise. Bloom, for example, explains "scientifically' why hanged men undergo sexual erections at the moment of execution. J. J. O'Molloy, likewise metaphorically, speaks of the Nelson policy as "putting your blind eye to the telescope"; old Mr. Verschoyle has a long, thin ear trumpet, and the famous interpolation about trees (midway in the chapter) becomes particularly phallic, especially when coupled with the offhand reference to "Deadwood Dicks."

Closely allied to this stake motif is the "eye" metaphor, which is, of course, the more significant of the two. Joyce's main point in this episode is to satirize those people who, like the cyclops, see things (think about things) with only one eye — that is, those people who operate with a limited vision of the world, those who are partially, or wholly, intellectually "blind." Joyce's alcoholic and extremely anti-Semitic Fenian, for example, is obsessed with hatred for Britain. In his drunken rage, he distorts Bloom's personality and so thoroughly exasperates Joyce's protagonist that, for the first time in Ulysses, Bloom firmly erects his self-esteem and asserts his true nature. Likewise, the symbolic cyclops in this chapter, like his prototype, is not only chauvinistic but he is also a real phony. As the spiteful but clever, anonymous narrator asserts, this "cyclops!' has reason to fear a patriotic Irishman because of his shady dealings in the eviction of an Irish family.

Thus eyes predominate in "The Cyclops." Generally, the "villains" (or incompetents) are described as being one-eyed; the protagonist, in contrast, is described as having two eyes, or at least as being "codeyed" — that is, as being "Godeyed." Thus, the Citizen-cyclops is first seen rubbing his hand in his eye, and at the end of the episode, he misses hitting Bloom with the biscuit tin (a parallel to Polyphemus's rock) which he hurls because he is blinded by the sun (here, there is a possible parallel of Bloom's being the son of God).

In "The Cyclops," Joyce also intersperses the limited actions of the chapter with over 30 interpolations that satirize various forms of pretentiousness: literary style, national aspirations, sports reporting, mincing gestures among the upper classes, and so forth. The Citizen (unnamed throughout the chapter) is described (in one of Joyce's well-known "catalogues") as a sort of prehistoric Irish warrior and, in addition, he is adorned with the trappings and tribal images of such historical personages as Captain Nemo, Goliath, Dante Alighieri, the Queen of Sheba, Lady Godiva, and so forth. A word of praise for Bloom (by Joe) as being a humane person elicits a paragraph from the Citizen about the hen, Black Liz, that anticipates the marmalady (Joyce's term) style of the Nausicaa Episode. Later, the mention of the (fictitious) Keogh-Bennett fight evokes the worst of trite expressions — blood becomes "lively claret" — and Keogh, an "Irish gladiator." In addition, Curmingham's innocuous "God bless all here . . ." occasions a most elaborate procession to Kiernan's pub, in which the principals mainly become "saints" — that is, Bloom is seen as "S. Leopold"; the rest become "martyrs, virgins and confessors. . . ."

Joyce structures "The Cyclops" by inculcating an ever-deepening sense of darkness, hatred, and violence, which inevitably leads up to the climactic confrontation between Bloom and the Citizen. The somewhat jaded patrons of Kiernan's pub contrast sharply with the semi-inebriated but warmly nostalgic drinkers in "The Sirens." Thus, "The Cyclops," although it takes place during the day, is really one of the so-called night parts of Ulysses and, as such, leads artistically to the later chapters. Kiernan's pub is indeed a sinister cave, and its denizen, the Citizen, is markedly different from his counterpart in the previous chapter, a man who is also ruined by drink — Uncle Richie Goulding. The narrator's syphilitic urination typifies with Joycean genius the entire mood of this piece.

The episode begins with the narrator's describing to Joe Hynes a trick perpetrated by the plumber Michael Geraghty, who stole from Moses Herzog but who, like Homer's Odysseus, managed to escape when he seemed to be trapped. Hynes is headed for Barney Kiernan's to meet with the Citizen to discuss a cattle traders' meeting about foot and mouth disease, and the narrator accompanies him. Inside the pub, they confront the ferocious dog, Garryowen (who does not belong to the Citizen, incidentally). The tone of nastiness in the chapter is augmented by Alf Bergan, who callously points out the eccentric Denis Breen, who is pursuing the libel suit over the telegram he received: "U.P.: up."

The deepening sense of gloom, the feeling that things are not all right at Kiernan's, is increased by the ensuing conversation, Alf does not know that Paddy Dignam is dead: "Sure I'm after seeing him not five minutes ago . . . as plain as a pikestaff" (another long, thin, phallic image); similarly, Bob Doran's judgment that Christ must be a "ruffian" to take poor "Willy" Dignam draws an admonition from the barman Terry, who will not tolerate blasphemy in the pub. Doran, too, is a menacing character. He was tricked into marriage in Joyce's short story "The Boarding House" (in Dubliners), and he is now on his yearly drinking binge. As a final touch, Joyce inserts Hynes's description of a letter of application for the position of hangman from H. Rumbold; with its gory implications, it does little to assuage the depressing atmosphere of the pub; instead, it emphasizes anew the sense of despair, depression, and futility.

Bloom enters the pub, as we might expect, at the wrong time, and the rest of the episode is structured upon one essential contrast: the violence of the pub participants set against the temperate attitude of Bloom, an attitude which is starkly out of place in this dark, cyclopian cavern. Bloom's entrance establishes him here again as a Christ-like figure, and, through Joyce's careful choice of details, this sequence foreshadows Bloom's role at the end of the chapter as a kind of modern Elijah, a prophet unappreciated by his "people." When Bloom enters Kiernan's, he keeps his "cod's eye on the dog [Garryowen]." The Joycean equation of "dog' and "God" (spelled backwards) is underscored by Hynes's exclamation, "O Christ . . ." — although he is referring here to Rumbold's letter and not to Bloom, but he utters it just as Bloom "slopes in." Bloom twice refuses drinks, but he does accept the offer of a cigar (here is another parallel allusion to Odysseus's stake), and Bloom earns the name "prudent member" because of his abstemiousness.

But Bloom is not wholly a simple Christ figure, or even a mere hero figure; here, he is also a know-it-all, "Mister Knowall," and there is a slight justification in the annoyance of the drunken patrons at his lengthy explanations and tedious moralizing. Bloom explains, as was noted, the "scientific" and the "natural phenomenon" behind an erection of a hanged man, and Joyce recounts for us the sour narrator's comments to his audience-readers: "The fat heap he married is a nice old phenomenon with a back on her like a ballalley." Also, in answer to the Citizen's intemperate description of the British government's barbaric treatment of its sailors, Bloom further rouses the ire of the cyclops by asking "Isn't discipline the same everywhere?"; later, Bloom enunciates a typically passivistic commonplace: "Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and women, insult and hatred." Bloom, unlike the cyclops, sponsors love: "I mean the opposite of hatred."

But if this chapter portrays one of Bloom's major faults — that is, his sentimentality — it also emphasizes his heroism. Bloom is suffering the excruciating knowledge that, at this very time, Boylan is cuckolding him (starting at 4:30 p.m.); yet he persists in his errand of mercy for the Dignam family. He desperately tries to divert the conversation from the tricky Boylan to the virtues of lawn tennis (an "English" game and therefore inimical to Irish nationalists). Boylan, however, is so much on his mind that he misspeaks "wife's admirers" for "wife's advisers." He also passively suffers the Citizen's comments about a dishonored wife's bringing ruin to Ireland, sentiments expressed (ironically) by the pro-British Deasy in "Nestor," and he voices compassion for Mrs. Breen — only to have the Citizen call Denis a "half and half," a judgment which the cyclops means to be applied to Bloom.

Bloom's business affairs are equally frustrating. Hynes is spending the money which he owes to Bloom on drinks. And Nannetti, Bloom learns, is leaving for the House of Commons without deciding anything about the Keyes ad.

Yet, it is here, in "The Cyclops," that Joyce exhibits the true heroism of Bloom; for a few brief moments, the put-upon comic hero, having had enough, fights back by asserting his Jewishness. He begins to become irritated when the Citizen, in response to Bloom's insistence that Ireland is his nation, spits an oyster into a corner. Bloom becomes angry for the first time in Ulysses: "And I belong to a race too . . . that is hated and persecuted. Also now. This very moment. This very instant."

After Bloom leaves the drinkers for a moment to find Cunningham, the Citizen and his cronies, now thoroughly intoxicated, sponsor the silly belief that Bloom won a bet on Throwaway, but will not stand them to a round of drinks. They accuse him (wrongly, using Joyce's irony) of "defrauding widows and orphans." When Bloom returns to find that Martin Cunningham has been in Kiernan's while Bloom has been looking for him in the courthouse, the action proceeds to its conclusion. In answer to the anti-Semitic slurs of the dropsical Polyphemus-like character of the cyclops, Bloom (like Odysseus in Homer's epic) cannot help but retort: "Your God was a jew. Christ was a jew like me." And although the empty biscuit box thrown by the Citizen causes a mock heroic seismic disturbance, it has no more effect than Polyphemus's boulder. Bloom escapes down Little Green Street and is assumed, metaphorically and linguistically, into Heaven. The motif of the throwaway that announced Elijah's coming has now run its course.

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